Powering through multiple reps of bicep curls, planks and uphill sprints in the pre-dawn, their bodies grow stronger, but they are intent on building upon something bigger.
“It’s not just a workout group,” Josh Berry said before the members of F3 Northeast Tennessee started their exercise routine in Founders Park. “We do this in order to positively affect our community. We grow through fitness, and as we get stronger physically, we start getting to know each other on a deeper level.”
The local group is part of a national organization. The three “Fs” denoted in its name are fitness, fellowship and faith, the pillars of the group’s mission.
It’s a close-knit group, like a brotherhood, Berry says, bonded by the jokes they share and the pain they endure while pushing their bodies to improve physically. Each workout session is peer-led, giving different members leadership experience.
There are more than 50 members who attend regularly at various sessions in Johnson City, Kingsport and Erwin. There’s also a sister organization for women called Females in Action operating in the area with the same core principles running parallel to F3.
Men at any fitness level are encouraged to join, Berry said, noting that the rudimentary exercises the group does offer different levels of intensity and are more accessible than the more intense and technical workouts of other fitness programs.
Berry is the group’s “Nantan,” a term for its informal leader adopted from an Apache word meaning chief. To cement cohesion, group members use their own set of vocabulary for certain words and give nicknames to each other. Berry’s nickname is Pythagoras because he teaches math at Science Hill High School.
“You get to know the other guys by that name, and you sort of become that name to them,” he said.
At the end of their workout sessions, members gather in the “circle of trust,” where they take a roll call shouting out their nicknames and offering encouragement to each other.
On Thursday, the men welcomed new member Adam Bowman into the circle.
“I go to church with one of the guys out here and he invited me,” Bowman said after the group dispersed. “I work from home, so it’s a good opportunity to get me out of the house and meeting new people.”
Berry said F3 boasts members from all walks of life. Some, like group founder Nathan Hale, are professors at East Tennessee State University. Some are fathers. All are welcome.
Though one of the tenets is faith, Berry said there’s no requirement that members believe in a specific religion, or any religion. What they should believe is “there’s something bigger than yourself that you should be giving back to, that there’s something more important than you out there,” he said.
F3 Northeast Tennessee holds meet-ups every day but Sunday at three different locations in Johnson City, Love Chapel Elementary School in Erwin and Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport. For a full schedule, visit the group’s website at www.f3netn.com.